Hailing from Dresden and a member of the Sinchi DJ Collective, Berlin-based JENNIFER TOUCH offers a varied musical palette that is sometimes danced-based and sometimes synthpop.
While her new EP release ‘Seven’ is more techno-oriented, her previous song-based single ‘Chemistry’ was a dark electronic pop affair with that post-punk snarl, rising and reverberating with brooding vintage synths.
It demonstrates her songwriting abilities away from the clubby climes from which she emerged, not too far off from the intense drama of BOY HARSHER. The hazy visual accompaniment preserves her enigmatic aura with a dose of Mittel Europa chic. Now if Berghain did fashion shows…
On the flipside of ‘Chemistry’, the oddball electro of ‘DDD-1’ is weird and wonderful with Touch’s nonchalant almost spoken voice suiting the artful beat laden backdrop perfectly.
Having released her debut self-titled EP in 2015 with the detached EMMON sounding ‘Boom’, the ‘Feeling C’ mini-album from 2016 featured ‘No One’ which explored some of the abstract vocal aesthetics of fellow Berlin resident EMIKA in her earlier work but in a more four-to-the-floor template, proving that there is indeed something in the water in the former divided city. Meanwhile, the spacey sequenced cacophony of the ‘Feeling C’ title track with its cutting synths and gated snare offered a hypnotic avant-classical disco escape.
Wearing a coat of many colours, JENNIFER TOUCH is a cool developing talent who will play her most prestigious date yet opening for ROBERT GÖRL as part of his occasional ‘Glücksritter’ series of performances in Leipzig on 18th May 2019.
Like Germany and the UK, Sweden has an established history in electronic music.
With a melodic tradition rooted in traditional Nordic folk music and the region’s long dark nights causing bouts of melancholy, the Swedes are more than well suited to stay indoors and further the art of synthpop.
In addition, Clavia Digital Musical Instruments, founded in 1983 and based in Stockholm, have emerged as a world leader in modern virtual analogue subtractive synthesizers with its distinctive red Nord Lead series as well as its digital stage pianos.
The iconic Energy Rekords provided a platform for modern electronic music in the country while today, labels such as Progress Productions, Labrador and Wonderland have maintained their support for domestic talent. Meanwhile, COVENANT maintain an audience across the Atlantic for their resonant futurepop and ROBYN has become so much part of the mainstream that her songs are regularly murdered by reality TV talent show wannabes.
Probably the most influential act to come out of Sweden are THE KNIFE. Their influence internationally on countless acts such as GAZELLE TWIN, GRIMES, AUSTRA, THE HORN THE HUNT and BECKY BECKY to adopt darker colours and mess with the very fabric of sound, has held a flag for inventive artful experimentation.
So what’s so special about Sweden then? Listed chronologically and then alphabetically from its UK perspective with a restriction of one song per moniker, here are 25 SVENSKA SYNTH SONGS…
LUSTANS LAKEJER Diamanter (1982)
With a shortened title, ‘Diamanter’ was a more synth driven re-recording of their second single. LUSTANS LAKEJER were labelled Sweden’s answer to DURAN DURAN and like the Birmingham combo, Johan Kinde and Co were heavily influenced by JAPAN. Their third album ‘En Plats I Solen’ was produced by Richard Barbieri with Mick Karn popping up with his sax on three of its tracks.
Founded in 1980 by Eddie Bengtsson and Marina Schiptjenko, PAGE are often credited with bringing the more purer form of synthpop as pioneered by Vince Clarke to Sweden. Their debut single ‘Dansande Man’ was a frantically percussive excursion suitable for dancing to as the title suggested. Bengtsson and Schiptjenko were to become key figures on the Swedish music scene in many guises, as we shall see…
Originally released as a single via Eskimo, currently unavailable
With their name inspired by a JAPAN song, THE MOBILE HOMES were another Swedish band adopting purer synthpop colours . For their second single ‘Feeling Better’, they signed to Sonet, a Scandinavian independent who coincidentally handled the early publishing of Martin Gore and Vince Clarke. Eschewing the quirkiness of PAGE, THE MOBILE HOMES reflected the more pessimistic side of life often associated with Sweden.
An almost cartoonish trio originally comprising of Alexander Bard, Jean-Pierre Barda and La Camilla, ARMY OF LOVERS countered their outlandish visual presence with catchy electronic dance tunes influenced by the hippy musical ‘Hair’. While the epic ‘Crucify’ was the huge worldwide hit, the musically more subtle ‘Obsession’ offered a softer side while still maintaining the cinematic drama.
In parallel with PAGE, Eddie Bengtsson joined vocalist Alexander Hofman to write and perform some ‘Star Trek’ themed songs for a friend’s Trekkie themed birthday party. . Originally called MR SPOCK, the band name was changed to an acronym for ‘Star Pilot On Channel K’ after threats of legal action from Paramount Studios. ‘Never Trust A Klingon’ is still their crowning moment, a genius combination of deadpan vocals, bubbling synthpop and samples from Captain James T Kirk.
Available on the album ‘Five Year Mission’ via Energy Rekords
Founded in 1988, ELEGANT MACHINERY were another act who preferred a purer synthpop stance; they even covered SPANDAU BALLET’s ‘To Cut A Long Story Short’ in the style of Vince Clarke for an excellent 1995 Energy Rekords tribute collection of the same name. Many consider ‘Hard To Handle’ their finest song, an excellent blend of dance friendly beats and blippy melodies.
Formed in 1986 in Helsingborg, the Eskil Simonsson fronted COVENANT managed to gain a footing in both synthpop and EBM camps, achieving great success in North America from touring the alternative electronic club network established following the stateside success of DEPECHE MODE. Still going strong, 2016 saw the release of their ninth long player ‘Blinding Dark’.
Sibling duo THE KNIFE are probably the acclaimed electronic act to emerge from Sweden. Their uncompromising approach has won them many plaudits. But there was a time when with their experimentation came a tune too. The wonderful ‘Pass This On’ took Karin Dreijer’s unsettling pitch shifted vocals and placed them over brother Olaf’s soundtrack of primitive string machine and uplifting steel drums. Things got much darker after this…
Tired of her label BMG trying to turn her into the Swedish CHRISTINA AGUILERA, ROBYN took began taking an interest in the electronic movement closer to home. Inspired by THE KNIF, she collaborated with them to produce what is now possibly the key song which transformed Robin Miriam Carlsson into the successful independently minded artist she is today.
Available on the album ‘Robyn’ via Konichiwa Records
Best known as a member of the cult Swedish indie band PARIS, singer and keyboardist Emma Nylén had aspirations to produce something that was more decisively electronic. Her first recordings immediately showcased a catchy dance friendly sound as exemplified by ‘Rock D’Amour’. Subsequent albums ‘Closet Wanderings’ and ‘Nomme’ have maintained the standard, although EMMON is currently on a career break to raise a family.
Eddie Bengstsson’s solo project, also referred to as SMPJ, saw him unafraid to mine his Synth Britannia influences. ‘Allt Är Klart’ was an ULTRAVOX tribute and effectively a Swedish vocal version of the instrumental B-side ‘Alles Klar’. The hard, staccato synth bassline was borrowed from the original, but the track was bolstered by some superb whirring synths in the tradition of Billy Currie’s adventures with the ARP Odyssey.
Combining dual male / female vocals with a danceable electro goth backdrop, Anders Hagström and Yasmine Uhlin achieved success in Germany as well as Sweden with ‘Spiders’. ASHBURY HEIGHTS came out of hiatus in 2015 with a new female vocalist Tea F Thimé and a new album ‘The Looking Glass Society’ after a settling a despite with their label Out Of Line.
BODIES WITHOUT ORGANS or BWO saw PAGE’s Marina Schiptjenko teaming up Alexander Bard from ARMY OF LOVERS in a project that has probably come closest to exploiting the musicality of ABBA for the 21st Century. Fronted by the extremely handsome Martin Rolinski, the classic pop tradition of the original Super Swedes was more than obvious on the mightily bonkers ‘Lay Your Love On Me’ which they entered for Eurovision.
Producer Andreas Kleerup hit paydirt with ‘With Every Heartbeat’, a collaboration with ROBYN. A marvellous self-titled album followed with ‘Longing For Lullabies’ featuring Neneh Cherry’s sister Titiyo being the tearful highlight. Despite being driven with raw mechanical beats, the simple vocal melody was simple, almost keyboard-like going up and down the ivory scale in the best tradition of OMD while Titiyo’s vocal range made it a bit Agnetha and Annifrid too!
One established artist who made a volte face in the wake of THE KNIFE was KARIN PARK. It was on more her ROBYN-esque third album ‘Ashes To Gold’ that she sowed the seeds of her current electronic template. The synthpop disco of ‘Ashes’ fused electronic counterpoints and a live bass guitar with an incessant groove while Miss Park provided her enticing vocal presence.
Another act formed under the spectre of THE KNIFE, Stockholm duo Malin Dahlström and Gustaf Karlöf released ‘Mother Protect’ as a free download to launch NIKI & THE DOVE. Then came ‘DJ, Ease My Mind’; shaped by a ritualistic percussive mantra and whirring sub-bass, Dahlström’s witchy mannerisms provided the surreal scenario of what the Dreijers might have sounded like if they had decided to enter Eurovision.
Available on the album ‘Instinct’ via Mercury Records
Having issued their first album ‘:Adored’ in 1996 and their second ‘Have You Ever Touched A Dream?’ in 2004, ‘Silent Dawn’ was a single released as part of DAYBEHAVIOR‘s much vaunted comeback. The song was an exploration in laid back filmic pop and breathy continental vocals that wouldn’t have sounded out of place in Italian art movie. Indeed their most recent single ‘Change’ was also released in an alternative Italian language version, naturally titled ‘Cambiare’.
KITE have been called “Sweden’s best kept pop-secret”; Nicklas Stenemo and Christian Berg have undoubtedly been producing some of the best electronic pop of the last few years. Only releasing EPs, things started to truly come together on their fourth release ‘IV’. From it, ‘Step Forward’ with its sharp percussive drama and pentatonic overtones was the undoubted highlight. More recently, the duo have been commissioned to provide a song for a new Steven Segal film.
With Karolina Komstedt’s dramatically assertive vocal and a bursting bassline from Johan Angergård, CLUB 8 showed in a crisp 180 seconds with ‘Stop Taking Time’ that a danceable electronic tune didn’t have to be a journey into death by four-to-the-floor. Formed in 1995 as a more conventional pop act, CLUB 8’s most recent album ‘Pleasure’ celebrated 20 years for the duo.
MACHINISTA are seasoned hands, John Lindqwister was part of CAT RAPES DOG while Richard Flow was in VISION TALK with the late Krister Petersson. Their mantra is produce synthpop with a rock’n’roll edge. Like THE CURE gone electronic, or ALPHAVILLE crossed with SUICIDE, ‘Molecules & Carbon’ is both catchy and danceable with some suitably rousing elements too.
First launched via a set of mysterious viral videos with alphanumeric code titles, IAMAMIWHOAMI helmed by vocalist Jonna Lee and producer Claes Björklund premiered a delightfully odd cinematic electronic sound. From the second album ‘Blue’, the rich Scandipop of ‘Chasing Kites’ sees Jonna Lee hitting those ABBA-esque high notes with ablomb before adopting a huskier register for the second half.
Available on the album ‘Blue’ via To Whom It May Concern
A touching tribute to Messrs Clarke, Gore, Hütter and Schneider, JOHAN BAECKSTROM said “I guess I just wanted to reflect on the fact that there still IS a synthpop scene with some really great bands, both old and new. In another way, the song is sort of my ‘thank you’ to some of the artists that inspired me for several decades – some of them are mentioned in the lyrics, but far from all of course”.
Founded by Dan Söderqvist and Karl Gasleben, TWICE A MAN were the opposite to many Swedish acts in that they used synths and electronic effects for more sombre atmospheric soundscapes rather than performing outright pop. Still operating as a unit, their 2015 album ‘Presence’ featuring epic environmental message songs like ‘High In The Clouds’ showed their talents have not waned over the years and indeed have become more accessible.
Available on the album ‘Presence’ via Ad Inexplorata
After her inconclusive self-titled debut album in 2011, VANBOT aka Ester Ideskog had a rethink and started venturing into artier climes with the dreamy and enigmatic ‘Trooper’. With layers of vocals and rushes of lush synth, it started a journey towards the otherworldly template of IAMAMIWHOAMI. Her icy journey continues on her next album ‘Siberia’ which was written and recorded on a 17 day trip aboard the Trans-Siberian Railway.
REIN I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You (2016)
Feisty, ambitious and not to be messed with, REIN has certainly caused a stir with Europe’s male dominated EBM scene. A true Rebel Girl as suggested by one of the highlights from her self-titled debut 2016 EP, even within the inherent shouty nature of the genre and Joanna Reinikainen’s debut song ‘Can’t Handle Me’ effectively being a mission statement, things are ramped up to 11 on ‘I Don’t Get Anything But Sh*t From You’. She’s an artist to watch for sure…
“COMPUTE is a synthpop-project with some dirt in it, an attempt to combine past, present and future in one single song, and a sparkling merge of melancholy and naive pop melodies. COMPUTE believes that every song should be a hit for someone, somewhere.”
These are COMPUTE’s own words to describe her music. Behind the moniker COMPUTE is Ulrika Mild, who hails from Gothenburg, Sweden.
In her early teens, she was introduced to DEPECHE MODE’s classic record ‘Speak and Spell’ by her older brother and instantly felt like she had found her musical home.
She soon started to play in different bands. In the beginning of the new millennia, Ulrika got her first software synths and started to create her own music at home, which was like a revelation to her. In the beginning she used the synths like any other instrument and tried to build a rather traditional pop sound. Later, she abandoned this to a certain extent and instead, dared to take full advantage of all the possibilities the synths gave her.
COMPUTE’s music can be described as really irresistible synthpop songs, full of brilliant multi-layered soundscapes, accompanied by strong beats, incredibly catchy melodies and vocals that are both fragile and powerful at the same time. The lyrics are also very personal, clever and original. Just like MARSHEAUX, she can do both cute little pop tunes, melancholic ballads and songs with harder danceable beats with the same ease.
Her music is very uncompromising and direct, far from being shy. It’s really liberating to hear music with this level of authenticity; music that doesn’t try to be trendy in any way. COMPUTE sticks to her own formula and by doing so delivers high quality synth pop tunes like they are the most natural things in the world.
After selling out some EPs between 2004 and 2006, she released her debut album ‘This’ in 2009. In 2010, she recorded a very well received cover of ‘Förlåt’ on the tribute record to Sweden’s first synthpop band PAGE (curated by this writer).
In fact, PAGE’s Marina Schiptjenko named COMPUTE’s cover her personal favourite on the entire ‘Tiden Går – En Hyllning Till Page’ double album. In 2011, COMPUTE collaborated with Deadbeat from THE GIRL & THE ROBOT but she has now released her follow up album; ‘The Distance’.
The overall production has been sharpened up a notch or two, the sounds are crisper with more power and the vocals as angelic as ever. This time there are a little more indie pop influences here and there, especially in the last song ‘The Ending Of You’ – maybe because Ulrika also is a part of the indie pop band LICHTENSTEIN? Sometimes the music is extremely minimal and simplified, but thanks the Ulrika’s brilliant voice and sense of creating melodies and beats, it all works and does so very well.
Sure, you can trace some inspiration from early DEPECHE MODE, Minimal Wave and groups such as PAGE, YAZOO and others: the refrain of the song ‘Light As A Feather’ is a reminder of DAVID BOWIE’s ‘Ashes To Ashes’, the beat in the song ‘This Is It’ features obvious similarities to that of THE KNIFE’s ‘Like a Pen’, and there is something in the song ‘Shot’ that feels like NEW ORDER’s ‘Touched by the Hand of God’. But it has to be said: COMPUTE is never a clone. On the contrary, she is quite unique.
The highlight on the new album is ‘Dawning Days’, which combines classic EBM beats (think early FRONT 242) with a synthpop melody and Ulrika singing sweet harmonies with herself. All in all, this album is another brilliant piece of COMPUTE-music, albeit a bit short with only eight three minute songs – but maybe this is another KRAFTWERK influence?
It’s more fun with COMPUTE. When playing live, COMPUTE is often augmented by her friend Renee Gustafsson on additional keyboards and backing vocals. Her gigs are real treats and just like with EMMON or MARSHEAUX, it is impossible not to start dancing.
Now it is finally here, EMMON’s third album is entitled ‘Nomme’. As suggested by the great first single ‘Distance’, it is harder, darker and even more electronic than the last album.
Any traces of the flirtation with regular indie pop that was present in some of the songs on ‘Closet Wanderings’ can not be found anymore.
But EMMON’s sound and energy fortunately remains unchanged. You could say this record is the epitome of everything that EMMON stands for: sexy urban elegance, warm electronic coldness and hard ecstatically danceable synth-disco beats.
For those of us who have followed EMMON for a long time, there are two pleasant surprises. Originally two of the songs on this album appeared as hard-to-find demos only, released sometime in 2003-2004. Now ‘Body Jar ‘and my old time favourite ‘Love Track’ can be finally enjoyed on an official release. Great! Both songs have been sharpened up a lot since the demo stage, but without losing any of their original spirit. However, ‘Love Track’ has now mutated into featuring a singing style that is very similar to THE KNIFE’s Karin Dreijer-Andersson’s distorted male voice. I like that!
Other notable tracks are the brilliant second single ‘Ghost Dance’ and the totally awesome All Yours, both of which were premiered live last year. ‘All Yours’ is THE obvious choice as the next single in my mind. There are a lot of remix potential in that song! I for one would love to hear MARSHEAUX, REX THE DOG or even Mr Vince Clarke have a go at it.
Like on the last album, there are two instrumental tracks ‘Hammerville Heights’ and ‘Blacklight’, both of which have hypnotic and propulsive rhythms. I guess they should provide the perfect soundtrack in your car when speeding down a highway…
‘Slottet’ stands out with its slightly distorted soundscape that gives a feeling of claustrophobic confinement, while the atmospheres in the beautiful track ‘Oratory’ make me think of ALPHAVILLE’s song ‘Carol Masters from Afternoons in Utopia’ for some reason although there are no obvious similarities. Many of the songs are segued into each other to give a sense of coherence which helps bind the record together.
The album ends with ‘Hammerville Heights’ – a play on words, it is actually a direct translation of Hammarbyhùjden, a neighborhood in the south of Stockholm. This track leads me to recall bands like THE MOBILE HOMES, SAPPORO 72 and STATEMACHINES’s first album ‘Avalanche Breakdown’ ie other Stockholm based bands – I wonder if it’s the urban environment of Stockholm that gives it this typical sound? The feeling of riding the subway or commuter trains is significant, not least because of the sampled Stockholm subway stop announcement towards the end of the song.
In conclusion, EMMON returns in style with ‘Nomme’. This is an album that all her fans absolutely must have. There is NO reason to sit this one out. Go buy it – now!
EMMON first came to prominence in 2007 with her excellent debut long player ‘Art & the Evil’ released by the Gothenburg based Wonderland Records.
Her feisty melodic electro as showcased by the singles such as ‘Wake Up Time’ and ‘Rock D’amour’ demonstrated a sophisticated style that successfully merged a dark artful intelligence with the energy of the dancefloor. She is currently working on the follow up to her last album, ‘Closet Wanderings’, which was released in 2009.
There is no sign of Emma Nylen losing any momentum with this new project. On the contrary, EMMON is more vital and full of energy as ever before, thanks to her new collaborator Jimmy Monell. ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK had a nice chat with her about the new album, future plans and horror movies.
You have a new album in the pipeline. When is it expected to be released?
If everything goes as planned, then my third album with EMMON will be released in Sweden during the spring this year. I am now completing the final mixes.
Will there be any singles released before the album?
The first single from the album is called ‘Distance’ and will be released in March. At the same time, I will go to Berlin to shoot a video for single number two, which will be released later this spring.
I guess the new songs you played live lately gives an idea about the sound on the new album, or are there any surprises?
The new album probably sounds still very much EMMON but with some new influences. The feedback I got from people who have heard the new songs tells me that it may sound a little darker and a bit harder in the production compared to previously. I only make music from things within myself, for myself and based on what I think is exciting and inspiring. And since I’m most active in my music-making during the darkest time of year, I think even that will to some extent dye my music.
My vision for the album was to create a kind of epic horror film script of warped and mysterious music arrangements. At the same time, to some extent I wanted to get closer to the kind of music that once made me want to start creating electronic music.
Has the recording of this your third album been different from the past two albums? Did you feel more accustomed to it so to speak? I am also thinking of your new relationship with Jimmy Monell – what was his input meant?
The main difference is that I, for the first time ever, brought in another person Jimmy Monell as co-producer of the record. Previously I have done everything myself during the entire process; from writing songs, recording, producing, mixing and creating album art.
I have been privileged to work with Jimmy when he mixed an album for my other band PARIS a few years ago. He is extremely skilled and an experienced musician and producer. He is also my boyfriend, so it seemed quite natural to start working together. We work very well together and we have the same taste when it comes to music and influences. He compliments me incredibly well in many areas and finds it very easy to interpret what kind of feeling it is that I want to convey with my music to enhance it further.
I still write and arrange all the material myself, but it is quite easy for me to lose patience and get bored with myself when I’m in a very intense creative period. Then it’s incredibly luxurious to have someone else to take over, who can continue build on and renew the things I started to work on.
Are Tony and Niklas in any way involved in your music creation?
Tony and Niklas from my backing band THE JOYBOYS are not involved in the creation of my music at all. It is entirely my own thing. However, the two of them are incredibly wonderful stage personalities that match my concept very nicely both as a talented live musicians and creative people. We have great fun together and also we do lot of music videos and photo projects for EMMON together.
Can you tell us a little about the process when you write a song?
Trying to describe a creative process is extremely difficult. There is no recipe for creating music, it just happens by itself. Sometimes I listen to my songs and think: “where the hell did that come from?” Certainly there is a lot of hard work behind it and I think for myself that it is about finding the focus of a mood or feeling and then try to convey this in a dignified manner.
Will there be any more revamped old songs this time also as with ‘Teenage Kickers’ on the last album? or will it just completely new stuff? Personally I would really like it if there was…
Maybe I will include one or two updated versions of some older EMMON songs that I previously only released as demos. But for people who have never heard them before, they’re entirely new creations.
What inspires you?
What inspires me most is actually movies and pictures. As long as I can remember, I have always related my creativity and music to images. A creation of a song probably works in much the same way as when directing the screenplay for an atmospheric film sequence. It’s all about feel and timing. To me, all my songs are like little movies with different themes in my head and an album feels like an entire road movie. Right now, I am also very into horror films which perhaps is reflected some of my new songs. My dream is to get the opportunity to make music for a really good film project.
If I’m not completely wrong, you are now working in art direction – how does it affect your music?
I am currently not working actively as Art Director, but I am a trained artist as well as art director and use a lot of this background in my creative process.
You are always a joy to see live. Tell us about your own experience of your live gigs!
I love to play live and really want that feeling to rub off on the audience. Being on stage is very much a give and take situation. My task as an artist is to create an energy that then grows further in the audience, which in turn gives back its energy to me. My goal is that it always should be a great experience to see an EMMON gig – a memory that the audience will carry with them in the future.
Are you ever nervous before a live gig?
Not as often now as in the past, but of course it happens that I have butterflies in the belly before a gig, but I see it as a good sign. It’s good to be a bit nervous before a gig, it helps to pull yourself together and focus on the task ahead.
I guess the live schedule will be busy again this year?
It would be so incredibly fun to tour around and play a lot this year with my Joyboys. Let’s hope this happens!
If you could have a dream artist to do a song together with, who would it be?
My god, I have no idea, there are so many people that are crazy good. But I would be very proud and happy if, for example, RÖYKSOPP, LOGO, SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO or TRENTEMØLLER would want me to sing on one of their songs.
What other future plans do you have?
The focus is now to release the new EMMON album and do all the work around that and then of course, I want to play as much live gigs as possible. Then there’s always a lot of different creative projects to address. For instance, I’m also about to record an EP with my band PARIS that will be released this year. So I will be quite busy!
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK sincerely thanks Emma Nylen for her participation in this interview